Art21 Extended Play

Trevor Paglen Photographs the NSA

Trevor Paglen examining a proof of his photograph “National Security Agency” (2013). Production still from the series ART21 Exclusive. © ART21, Inc. 2015. Cinematography: Jarred Alterman.

“You as a member of the public should be able to exert the same kind of power over this institution that we can symbolically do by looking at a photograph shot from this perspective” —Trevor Paglen

Today’s ART21 Exclusive features Trevor Paglen discussing two recent photographs at Griffin Editions, a printing studio in New York City. Photographed from the inside of a helicopter, National Security Agency (2013) shows the agency’s rarely-seen headquarters in Fort Mead, Maryland at a “bird’s-eye” perspective. “I generally don’t like these so-called ‘bird’s-eye’ perspectives,” says Paglen, seeing its value instead as a means to suggest empowerment by the general public over institutions such as the NSA. Inspired by J. M. W. Turner’s painting, The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846), Reaper in the Sun (2013) depicts a drone aircraft flying above a military base in the Nevada desert. “In the sky, there traditionally is a promise of openness or freedom; but, the sky itself has been turned against us,” says Paglen, who describes the drone as the “punctuation mark.”

CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producers: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Nick Ravich & Susan Sollins. Camera: Jarred Alterman & Kyle Stryker. Sound: Marcus Goudge & John Zecca. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Trevor Paglen & Metro Pictures. Additional Footage Courtesy: Marisa Mazria Katz for Creative Time Reports. Special Thanks: Toby Bannister, David Berezin, Griffin Editions and Mike Vorrasi. Theme Music: Peter Foley.

ART21 Exclusive is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel; and by individual contributors.